Summary: Like the rich young ruler, we can hold on to what we have, and spend our lives full of regret and guilt, or we can let it go, and we can turn and follow Jesus.
Once upon a time there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. So he took it to his king and said, "My Lord, this is the greatest carrot I've ever grown or ever will grow. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you."
The king was touched and discerned the man's heart, so as [the gardener] turned to go the king said, "Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift so you can garden it all." And the gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing.
But there was a nobleman at the king's court who overheard all this. And he said, "My! If that is what you get for a carrot—what if you gave the king something better?" So the next day the nobleman came before the king and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, "My lord, I breed horses and this is the greatest horse I have ever bred or ever will. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you."
But the king discerned his heart and said thank you, and took the horse and merely dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed. So the king said, "Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse."
We’ve heard it said often, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!” As with that nobleman, even when our actions seem right, our motives often put us on the wrong path.
Today, as we continue with Jesus on our “Journey to Hope,” we have a stark reminder of one of the major and most common roadblocks that can keep us from experiencing fully the abundance of Jesus’ resurrection life. Just like the rich young ruler, even when it seems that we are doing everything right, God sees through to our heart, our true intentions. And more often than not, God finds in us exactly what Christ found in that rich young ruler – an unbreakable desire for goods and possessions; a greed so deep that it is like a great canyon separating us from God in Christ Jesus.
Here’s the thing about money and possessions. Possessions can either rule us, or we can rule possessions. And today, as we continue to consider how we might journey more faithfully with Christ and grow in our relationship with God, we are going to consider how, in our own lives, we might put money and possessions into proper perspective so that they don’t rule our lives and get in the way of our journey to hope.
There’s no contesting the fact that possessions ruled the life of the rich young ruler. As pious as he seemed, the young man was after one thing and one thing only: more. When he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, his goal was to find out just exactly what he needed to do so that his inheritance in the life to come might be even greater than his possessions on earth. Which makes Jesus’ answer to him seem quite ironic, and it was certainly very shocking to this rich ruler. “Go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven.” But the man couldn’t do it, and he went away sad. Possessions so ruled his life that he couldn’t give up what he had, even with the promise of a greater inheritance in the life to come!
I suppose the rich young ruler was a good and decent man; a fair ruler. It would only seem logical considering his self-proclaimed faithful adherence to the Jewish law. But adherence to the law does not gain salvation; only devotion to Christ can do that! And this is precisely what we practice during this season of Lent; purging our lives of those “things,” possessions, goods, money, bad habits, whatever, that disrupt our devotion to Christ. Our greatest weakness as individuals and as a church community is that fact that we can be upright, decent citizens of society without ever going on to become disciples of Jesus Christ, with his peculiar flavor of love and costly self-giving. We have a choice. We can devote our lives wholly to Christ, putting aside all that hinders our devotion, giving of ourselves and our resources freely and fully, or we can be “decent citizens,” never quite able to go “all-in.”
That rich young ruler needed something far more than affirmation of what he already knew, or even instructions on how to inherit eternal life. He needed the blessing of God that only Jesus Christ can give, and he missed it. He missed it! It’s so easy to do. There it is, the blessing of God, in a simple call to put aside that which absorbs our attention and to follow Christ whole-heartedly. Why did he miss it? The same reason we do, he’s too rich; too self-sufficient; too proud; too self-absorbed; he didn’t need anybody or anything, and he walked right out of the presence of God.